The Science of Happiness, Part 3: What commuting, graduate degrees and being single have in common

Chart of the dowjones and happiness
Correlation Between the Dow Jones and Happiness

WARNING: The following discussion is about the correlation between happiness and many other factors. But it’s just correlation. The factors below are correlated with happiness, but that does not mean they CAUSE happiness. “Correlation does not imply causation”.

Now that I’ve posted the warning, I can talk about some of the interesting correlations between happiness and other things. Such as:

  • Extroverts are happier than introverts.
  • Optimists are happier than pessimists
  • Married people are happier than single people
  • People who attend religious services regularly are happier than people who do not
  • People who have a college degree are happier than people who do not have a college degree BUT
  • People with advanced degrees are LESS happy than people with just a bachelor’s degree
  • People who have sex are happier than people who don’t have sex
  • People who are busy are happier than people who say they have too little to do
  • People are happier the older they get
  • The more someone commutes the LESS happy they are — in fact commuting is one of the largest sources of stress and unhappiness there is. The length of the commute is directly connected to happiness. The more minutes of commuting = more unhappiness.
  • People are happier when they feel they can predict what is happening — hence the chart above that shows that when the Dow Jones dropped unexpectedly, happiness dropped, but when people realized that it was going to be a bumpy ride then it stopped affecting their happiness
  • People are happier when they live in close proximity to happy people (not just in your house, but including the neighborhood).

I have a Ph.D., but I work out of my house. Maybe the two cancel each other out?

What do you think about these correlations?

Here’s the references:

Eric Weiner, The Geography of Bliss, Twelve, 2008.

Fowler, J. H.; Christakis, N. A (3 January 2009). “Dynamic Spread of Happiness in a Large Social Network: Longitudinal Analysis Over 20 Years in the Framingham Heart Study” (PDF). British Medical Journal 337 (768): a2338. doi:10.1136/bmj.a2338PMC 2600606PMID 19056788.

Graham, Carol, Soumya Chattopadhyay, and Mario Picon (2010), “Does the Dow Get You Down? Happiness and the U.S. Economic Crisis”, mimeo, The Brookings Institution, Washington, DC, January.


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8 Replies to “The Science of Happiness, Part 3: What commuting, graduate degrees and being single have in common”

  1. Kunal — all I’ve seen so far are the correlations. No studies with causation findings, but that will be hard with this type of data — can’t really do a controlled study!

  2. Hi Susan,

    First I take the opportunity to say that I thoroughly enjoyed your two books and this blog overall. Second, It’s great to see a disclaimer about the caveats of correlations. I see too much misinterpretations of correlation as causation nowadays (let alone misuses of ANOVAS, *sigh*). I might though humbly interject and say that sometimes, correlation can be interpreted for causation with a big pinch of salt though:

    Correlations are measures of a bidirectional (co-)relation between two variables, meaning that either can cause each other or they just happen to evolve together. However, when investigating both ways of this relation as causal, one can sometimes see that only one of them is naturally possible.

    As an example, it makes naturally sense that cummuing time can affect happiness but it’s virtually impossible for happiness to cause commute time (unless all happy people are leaving in suburbs and working in the city, which would be then a mediation effect). Therefore, we can more or less safely say that reducing commute time is likely to cause some increase in happiness on the population level (not individuals) but it is obviously not the only factor. Same would go for a correlation between parents income and children’s SAT scores for instance.

  3. Here’s a process roadmap for generating happiness.
    (a) keep busy and be more active;
    (b) spend more time socializing;
    (c) be productive at meaningful work;
    (d) get better organized and plan things out;
    (e) stop worrying;
    (f) lower your expectations and aspirations;
    (g) develop positive, optimistic thinking;
    (h) become present oriented;
    (i) work on a healthy personality;
    (j) develop an outgoing, social personality;
    (k) be yourself;
    (l) eliminate negative feelings and problems;
    (m) close relationships are the number one source of happiness;
    (n) put happiness as your most important priority.

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